Music legends Ray Charles and Johnny Cash have been the subjects of a pair of blockbuster movies, drawing huge audiences into theaters. Jamie Foxx earned a Grammy Award for his lead role in Ray, while Joachim Phoenix has been acclaimed by critics for his portrayal of Cash in Walk the Line.
Those are just two recent examples of must-see films featuring pop music. Actually, Hollywood has been courting the rock 'n' roll audience since the mid-fifties.
In case you missed them, here are a baker's dozen music-related films you should check out.
The Girl Can't Help It- While this wasn't the first movie to feature rock 'n' roll music, (that would be Blackboard Jungle) it was in color, something which wasn't always guaranteed in 1956. You get stage performances from Little Richard, Fats Domino, Gene Vincent and The Platters. Little Richard would be the star of the show, if it weren't for the ample talents of Jayne Mansfield.
Yellow Submarine- Many critics and fans point to A Hard Day's Night, the Beatles' first film, as their greatest cinematic achievement since it virtually invented the modern rock video. But, 1969's animated feature is a bigger trip. A psychedelic adventure pitting John, Paul, George and Ringo against the Blue Meanies, Yellow Submarine features 15 classic songs in a visual and sonic treat for all ages.
That Thing You Do!- Written and directed by Tom Hanks, this flick is an entertaining romp through the short lifespan of the fictitious "Wonders." The Wonders form, get their one national hit, tour and break-up in a period of months and take us along for the ride.
La Bamba and The Buddy Holly Story- These films have the same tragic ending: the deaths of Ritchie Valens and Holly in an Iowa plane crash in 1959 which also claimed the life of the Big Bopper. La Bamba stars Lou Diamond Phillips in the title role while Gary Busey does a commendable job portraying Holly. Lots of great music in both films, as you'd expect.
Gimme Shelter- Documentary of the Rolling Stones free performance at Altamont Speedway at the end of 1969. While August's Woodstock featured peace-loving hippies, this film shows the chaos of a concert with the Hells Angels motorcycle club in charge of security. We go from peace and love to mayhem in three short months.
This Is Spinal Tap- Get ready to laugh. This parody takes the myths and legends of the rock star lifestyle and gives it a Monty Python-like twist. You'll swear it was all true.
Don't Look Back- D. A. Pennebaker's documentary of Bob Dylan's 1965 tour of Great Britain is a gem. Black & white film just adds to the mystique. Dylan aficionados and music fans in general are lucky to have this film from an era when rock wasn't seriously documented.
The Doors- As they say, Val Kilmer is Jim Morrison in this trippy no holes barred story of the L. A. based Doors, their rise to fame and their eventual immortality (musically, anyway). The supporting cast is less believable, but it's a great flick and soundtrack nonetheless. The film helped launch yet another Doors revival.
Jailhouse Rock- Elvis made over thirty feature films. Most were average, many forgettable and some noteworthy, but Jailhouse Rock was his first. If you can't watch dozens of films, start here, when Elvis was at his potent, raw best.
Mayor of Sunset Strip- This quirky film spotlights Rodney Bingenheimer, a little man who had a big impact on rock 'n' roll and became known by the title of this film. A pop star impresario, you'll be amazed by Rodney's exploits while feeling a little sorry for him as well.
Runners-up- You can't overlook the Who's The Kids Are Alright and Pink Floyd's The Wall, but you have to stop somewhere.
So, dim the lights. Let's watch a movie.